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October 16, 2009

I’m pretty thoroughly Canadian. Born and raised on the prairie. Flat? Yes! Wheaty? You bet your ass! I moved from Saskatchewan to Alberta when I was 17, and have been here for 10 of the past 12 years. Ranches? Ubiquitous! Oil? Sure thing, champ! Gays? Rats? Synonymous! (And no!)

Canadians, and in particular prairie Canadians, are smug as fuck about their ability to handle extreme weather conditions. I lived in Seattle for a while and cannot even describe the glee I experienced when the entire city shut down for two days due to it being -1 Celsius outside. Never before or since have I had occasion to make such frequent use of the phrase “bunch of pussies.” The weather–“coldest winter in 50 years!”–was the top story on every news channel, and the graphic in the top right-hand corner of the screen was, inevitably, the word COLD in frosty blue letters, beneath which was a thermometer with an icicle hanging from it and/or a cartoon man in a pompommed toque and comically oversized mitts with an expression of agony on his face. Classmates asked me for advice about how to walk on a slippery sidewalk without falling down. One of my students bragged to me that he had borrowed a winter coat from his cousin, who had once lived in Minnesota. I watched in awe as a neighbour defrosted her car’s windshield with a tea kettle full of hot water. I laughed without mercy at all of these things. “You have no idea what cold is” is the kind of thing I was saying to people. During this state-wide emergency it was -40 in Calgary and life was carrying on as usual.

When it comes to harsh weather, Canadians swagger and strut like postcoital elk. We act like we’re hot shit because we put up with it. But the truth is, six months of the year, we are cold shit. Almost all of us hate the winter. Anyone who claims not to mind jogging in a windchill of -40 is a damn liar. Anyone who assures you that it’s good for you and builds character to get out there and play in the snow on a balmy -25 degree morning is your dad, and he’s full of crap. All construction projects, including the building of character, cease completely in such inhospitable conditions.

These are the days when one’s relationship with the outdoors experiences a slow reversal. In the summer you want to be outside, you want to walk everywhere. When you’re in a bus or in your apartment, you feel confined, you want out. And then September shows up and you find yourself fighting the weather in little ways instead of loving it as fully as you did only a few weeks ago. You wear a coat and maybe some light gloves when you leave for work in the morning. The cold and darkness close in on you. Every day the sun rises a little later and you have to push yourself a little harder to wake up at the usual time. In the summer, springing out of bed at 6:00 a.m. feels almost natural: the sun’s out, birds are singing to you, why not get up and enjoy it? But in the winter, getting up at 6:00 a.m. takes ferocious will power. The same bus that stood between you and the lovely summer breeze in July is the most welcome sight of all come November. You develop a new appreciation for your apartment. It’s the warm place you fantasize about while you stumble through a blizzard in late-afternoon darkness.

I thought I had a few weeks of fall to enjoy before some nor’-fuckin’-easter showed up to whiten my neighbourhood, but no. There are numerous inches of snow in Calgary already thanks to last week’s freaky cold front (“coldest October in 80 years!”). I mean, it looks just fucky. There’s snow all over the place, yet most of the leaves are still green and still clinging with heroically futile determination to their respective trees. I take a gander outside and I don’t know whether it’s 2:30 or page four. And within a few minutes, the goose gets cold and wants to come back in.

I’m sick of being violated by Old Man Winter. Jack Frost can go fuck himself too. No matter how many layers I wear, these two disgusting pervs find a way in. My theory is that humans should hibernate. Bears have it right. We should have a huge meal on November 15, then crawl into bed and be unconscious until spring is in sight. We’re not naturally disposed to be awake when the sun isn’t. We’re not built to endure -55 windchills. For god’s sake, bears are born with luxurious fur coats, like 100,000 hairs per square inch or some ludicrous thing, and even they say to themselves, “Fuck this shit, I’m going to bed for four months.” Lately we’re all hearing way too much about something psychologists call Seasonal Affective Disorder. With all due respect to psychology, being more lethargic and less chipper than usual when you go to work in the dark, come home in the dark, are absurdly susceptible to illness, and freeze your ass off every time you leave your home is not a mental illness; it’s a perfectly natural reaction to ongoing unpleasant physical conditions. We all have Seasonal Affective Disorder! Every fucking one of us except maybe the five people who are willing and able to spend the entire winter skiing! Counselling is not the answer. Special therapeutic light bulbs are not the answer. November-through-February hibernation is the answer, damn it. We can have Christmas in April. It’ll work out great. Jesus won’t mind. It’s not like December 25 is his real birthday anyway.

But, like a strike, it’s not going to work unless we all agree to do it. No scabs!

Who’s with me?

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